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Faulty breath testers put on the shelf

April 27, 2015

Use of Breathalyzer tests suspended by multiple DAs in Massachusetts

By Martha Neil

Breath test device

Half a dozen district attorneys in Massachusetts have suspended the use of Breathalyzer tests while questions about the reliability of the machines are resolved.

A spokesman for the state declined to say what issue is being investigated or when it arose. However, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan told the Boston Globe that it involves whether the machines are properly calibrated.

The newspaper said DAs for Essex County and the Cape and Islands had also instructed prosecutors not to use the test. Three more district attorney’s offices subsequently said they are suspending use of the test, too, reports the Lowell Sun. They are the Worcester, Suffolk and Northwestern district attorney’s offices. The Northwestern DA’s office handles Franklin and Hampshire counties.

“When properly used and maintained, the breath test instrument is one of the most accurate and reliable tools we have to identify and investigate drunk drivers,” said spokesman Felix Browne of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security in a written statement. “To ensure the integrity of this method of testing, which is used by departments across the commonwealth, the state police are performing a review to determine whether any problems exist in the testing procedures.”

At this point, it appears that only a small fraction of drunken-driving cases, a few dating back as far as 2011, may have been affected by possibly faulty results, according to the Globe.

However, the deputy chief counsel for the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services called for all district attorneys to stop using breath test results while the review proceeds.

“There may be some people who have been convicted based on faulty Breathalyzer results who shouldn’t have been, who shouldn’t be on probation, or shouldn’t have lost their driver’s license,” Randy Gioia told the Globe. “It could be affecting people right now.”

 

 

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